Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vatican Official Speaks at St. Thomas on Religious Freedom

Yesterday, the University of St. Thomas hosted Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, who is the Papal Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, speaking on the subject of religious liberty.  In my time working at the United Nations, some Papal Nuncios chose to do their work behind the scenes, like good diplomats, and they were not often outspoken.  Archbishop Chullikatt's international experience as a diplomat and pastor, recently in Iraq, demands that he be outspoken on issues which he has experienced personally.  The auditorium's full house was in rapt attention during his remarks.

In 1987, he said that there were 1.4 million Chaldean Christians living in Iraq.  In northern Mosul, across the river from Nineveh, Chaldean Christians had long been the majority in the city.  In 2010, the Syriac Catholic Cathedral was attacked by gunmen, killing 52 men, women and children.  Children, he said, were shot in open view of their mothers before they themselves were killed.  Two priests, both personally known to Archbishop Chullikatt, were also killed.

By 2003, only 800,000 Christians remained in Iraq, and today the number is about 200,000.  A large community of Iraqi Christians has established itself in Detroit.  In May 2011, St. Mina Coptic Church was burned to the ground in Egypt while the Egyptian army stood passively and watched.  Incredibly, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest religious authority in the country, called for the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula. Western mainstream media stories reacting against these inflammatory remarks are curiously absent from Google searches on the subject. 

The Papal Nuncio cites persecution of Christians in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Burma.  In Burma, he notes, Christians are portayed as carriers of Western liberalism and lax cultural mores, such as women's rights.  Burmese nationalists, who clothe themselves in Buddhist trappings without the values, focus their efforts on the Christians are representing unwanted outsiders who are enemies of the true Burma.

In our own country, Archbishop Chullikatt cited the philosopher Christopher Dawson, who said that the modern state is no longer satisfied with the "passive obedience" of the governed, but it increasingly requires its ambit to stretch out over every aspect of the lives of its citizens from cradle to the grave.  Thus, our own government's constant reference to "worship" (as opposed to religion) as being a private matter.

For a much better reflection of the Nuncio's views, here is a link to his talk at the April National Prayer Breakfast.  I am really glad to have had the opportunity to hear such an impassioned and informative talk on a subject of vital worldwide importance.

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